You’re either a lipstick person or not, according to the “all or nothing” make-up trend that has endured for more seasons than seems reasonable, alternately presenting us with extremes of scarlet and nude. For those who have kissed goodbye to their blooming 20s, either is hazardous as both can rob skin of vitality.
Much as lipstick trends seem polarising, however, beneath the surface cosmetic technology is rapidly expanding our options. The revolution in make-up is now less about colour than texture – and in lipstick terms, the pickings couldn’t be richer. New ingredients make them easier to apply, last longer, feel weightless and non-sticky and, most importantly, create an impact without overblowing it. But lipstick has always been a minefield of contradictions. I have witnessed women of scant cosmetic repertoire daub searing vermilion straight from the bullet without blinking, all the while denying they wore make-up at all. For them, it seems, lipstick is a gesture of good grooming. Nevertheless, this bullet means business. There it is, slap in the centre of your face, the most flagrant dash of colour you’ll ever wear. Small wonder we’re picky about lipstick. Get it right and you’re in control; bodge it and your cover’s blown.
“After the eyes, lips represent the most expressive element of the face. And there’s a fetish appeal, because lipstick can transform a face from intense to naïve or even dangerous,” observes Christian Louboutin, whose recently arrived collection of über-luxurious Lip Colour (£60), inspired by Nefertiti and encased in a heavy metal Middle Eastern-style amphora, promises all the impact of his inimitable footwear. “When a woman applies lipstick or puts on a pair of heels, in both cases you notice someone taking charge of herself. By doing either, she masters what people think of her.”
A relief, then, that this all-caring, BB-loving era has challenged cosmetic scientists to solve the dilemma of reconciling pigment with condition and making slippery substances stay, thereby preserving a semblance of control. Sustained-release pigments and moisturisers keep colour fresh for the long haul in Estée Lauder’s Pure Color Envy Liquid Lip Potion (£20), a clever, gloss-like liquid that settles to a comfortable, velvet-matte finish without making lips appear dry. Meanwhile, Clarins Joli Rouge (£19.50) is suffused with moisturising marsh samphire extract and mango oil, yet still manages to sheen and shade lips for up to six hours.
Most moisturising of all, balms themselves are getting bolder with extra infusions of pigment and shine, making them less “lipstick-lite” and more subtly voluptuous gloss/balm hybrids in a category all of their own. Inspired by roses, Guerlain KissKiss Roselip (£26.50), plumps and bedews lips with rose oils and hyaluronic acid, while Laura Mercier Lip Parfait Creamy Colourbalm (£19.50) and Suqqu Creamy Glow (£27) glide on effortlessly, glossing and smoothing as they go. Known for a delightful kiss-and-tell approach, Tom Ford has reintroduced naughtiness to nude with the shade names of his Lip Color Shine (£38): Quiver, for example, tints lips an enervated pale blue-pink, while murumuru butter, soja-seed extract and chamomile oil moisten and heighten the shine.
Not since Clinique’s much-copied giant pencil-style Chubby Sticks (£17) turned lip colouring into child’s play has lip tint been more forgiving. To the lipstick-shy, balms are precisely that – stress-free brightness that won’t show up less-than‑perfect contours or seem crassly out of place. “Older lips are often dry, so a formula that blends pigment with moisture makes lip colour more wearable,” says make-up artist Kay Montano. Fellow make-up artist Ruby Hammer sees balms as trainer tints. “Kind, comfortable and easy to use, balm is the suit-all texture that takes the fear out of wearing colour,” she says. “Choose them when you’re experimenting – even women who have never worn red before will feel encouraged.”
Dior Make-Up creative director Peter Philips agrees. One of his first tasks on arriving at the job from Chanel was to inject the confidence balms foster into Dior Addict Lipstick (£26.50) by integrating a core of high-shine oils to intensify colour and comfort, while ensuring the lipstick glides on sleekly. He then ordered the shades according to effect: Glow, for natural tones; Flash for brighter pops of colour; and, after what seems like a generation in exile, there is also Glitter – filaments of pearl that reflect light, making lips look softer yet fuller. “Shimmer is definitely back, but without the flat and frosty effect of the 1980s,” confirms Poppy King, aka the Lipstick Queen, whose All That Jazz collection is a quartet of sparkling balms (£25 each). “Big particle glitter can look juvenile, whereas fine shimmer illuminates lips in the way a luminiser highlights skin,” she says. “Think of a pearl or shimmer lipstick as a piece of jewellery to boost a simple outfit or layer over other textures,” adds Hammer.
Employing a wardrobe of lipstick textures, rather than shades, to accessorise fabrics, style or mood is an approach that fashion-forward make-up labels are increasingly adopting. As a man who knows his patent from his suede, Louboutin is well aware of the attitude textures convey. Thus, Rouge Louboutin – the sole signature of his vertiginous heels – appears in a trio of textures which, according to Catherine Roggero, general manager of Christian Louboutin Beauté, clearly appeal to different women. “The intense pigment of velvet matte appeals to bold personalities who prefer lip to eye colour; silky satin is for a sophisticated woman whose lipstick complements rather than dictates who she is; while sheer voile creates a younger, wetter shine. Women in a dating phase often go for gloss – it’s our nature to lick our lips when we’re trying to attract someone.” Instead of the usual lipstick-matching liners, there is also a range of flesh-toned Lip Definers (£27). “Lip contours need defining, not lipstick,” Roggero points out. “Mimicking your own lip tone makes lips appear fuller and younger.” Crucially, it also looks more natural under gloss. No more “cartoon mouth”, then.
Also cause for celebration is the new definition of nude. Hypernatural beige (surely the lip equivalent of a French polish) is at last giving way to a healthier, just-bitten “bare”. The most effortless tints take their cue from the inner lip, so that even skinny lips glisten naturally fuller. Ellis Faas Milky Lips in Ellis Red (£23) is less vampish than it sounds. This brownish-carmine can be dabbed onto lips to create a healthy stain, or stroked more boldly from its felt-tip applicator; it’s the nearest you’ll find to that rare thing – a universal red that doesn’t wear you. “I create colours that are already in skin: bruises, freckles, blood,” says Faas, cited by Vogue Paris as one of the most influential make-up artists of her time. “They’re human and not quite pure, so everyone finds them easier to wear.”
Meanwhile, Italian design duo Dolce & Gabbana have honoured their idol with the limited-edition Sophia Loren No 1 (£3), a fresh cherry with a hint of coral, which, they say, flatters the deep natural tone of her lips. Tom Ford Lip Color Shine in So Vain (£38) and toning Ultra Shine Lip Gloss in Love Bruise (£33) veer emotively on the mauve side, while almost imperceptible crimson sparkles give a glint of warmth. And while celebrating 20 years since its iconic varnish shocked us over to the dark side, Chanel is championing its matching Rouge Allure Lipstick in Rouge Noir (£26), which has that same blackened-red universal appeal. Full on, it’s an intense black-cherry statement, while artfully smudged to a berry stain, it’s a natural enhancer. Montano uses it to temper brighter colours. “It suits all skins, from Celtic to Nigerian,” she says. At last, the code for lips is not to match fashion, but simply suit yourself.